Mark Walters on Villa, John Barnes and his autobiography – Wingin’ It24 April 2019
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Stel Stylianou and Daniel Dwamena caught up with former Aston Villa, Rangers, Liverpool and England winger Mark Walters to talk about his career and upcoming autobiography – Wingin’ It: The Mark Walters Story
Being a Villa fan and signing as a youngster
I lived a kilometre from the ground and went to many games as a kid. Me and my friends used to sneak into the ground. It was always an ambition to be involved with Villa.
I played for my junior school team then on to New Town Unity, whose manager was scouting for Villa. At 9 or 10 I was invited to training, got involved with the youth team then signed schoolboy forms. I signed on a YTS when I was 6 when I left school.
I played for the reserves when I was 15 as a school boy, which was challenging as I played against older footballers.
We used to stand behind the goals in training and chased balls in the cabbage patch. If we didn’t get the balls we were punished by being made to clean boots and mud out of the changing room tiles. It kept us grounded and encouraged us to be pros as we wouldn’t have to do it anymore. Mixing with big name footballers made some of the youngsters big headed.
On his Aston Villa debut as a 17 year old
Doug Ellis became chairman before I made my debut and at that time Ron Saunders was on a year to year contact. Doug didn’t want Saunders and appointed his assistant Tony Barton as manager. During that time they were doing well in the European Cup and I was given my debut against Leeds so the manager could rest some players. I’d like to think I was close to making the European Cup final squad and was very disappointed I didn’t – but I used that as an experience and to better myself.
Moving to Glasgow Rangers
Villa were in decline after winning the Super Cup and although we had a great youth side, I think we were too inexperienced to do anything in the league. The club was relegated and I went on a week to week contract, so it was a case of biding my time and joining the right club. Had it not been for an injury, I’d have joined Pisa – where Paul Elliott was playing.
English clubs were out of Europe that time and the draw of Rangers – who were in European competition – made me decide to go there. Everton were also interested but the lure of European football did it.
Rangers looked after me and my family. We had some great moments. The club were good to me; from the tea lady all the way up to the chairman, they made me welcome at a time where I had issues that weren’t football related. It’s true what they say; once you play for the club, you’ll always be a Ranger.
I felt a little too comfortable at Villa and I wanted to better myself. I needed a challenge and there was no bigger challenge playing for one of the biggest clubs in Europe, who had the likes of Terry Butcher, Ally McCoist and the late Ray Wilkins.
On Ray Wilkins
The English players lived close to each other so me, Wilkins, Spackman used to go into training together. Ray was a fantastic fella and he and his wife really helped me settle at a very tough time. I was gutted to hear of his passing as he was such a nice guy. Everybody who came across Ray say he was a really nice guy.
On Richard Gough
He was not only good on the field but off it. He led by example and put his head in places you wouldn’t put your boot. He was a big player for us and played hundreds of games for the club. One of the best players Rangers has ever had. If someone got bullied on the pitch, all the lads – Gough and Butcher especially – would jump in and deal with the situation.
On the treatment Mo Johnstone received
We used to joke that he took the pressure off me. I got letters from the KKK. He got a bullet in the post. The club got a minder for him so he got to training safely. He definitely was under a lot of pressure but he let the football do the talking for him.
On Graham Souness
I came from Villa where the team picked itself and players influenced the manager a lot. At Rangers, it didn’t matter who you were, it would be the same rules for everyone. It was refreshing to know Graham picked players on merit. It was his way or the highway. There was an incident with Graham Roberts that sticks out in my mind. Graham had signed a new contract a few weeks earlier and during a game, we conceded goal which Souness believed was Roberts’ fault. Roberts said “if you think it was my fault, take me off”. Souness substituted him and never saw Roberts again at the club.
On his time at Liverpool
When you go to Liverpool, the aim is to win the league. Anything else is secondary. I had some good and bad times but the Auxerre game was a good moment for me. My time there is tinged with disappointment as we didn’t win the league. I wouldn’t change anything but I look back knowing we should have done better. I met some nice people there and it was a good time.
Relationship with Roy Evans
It wasn’t too bad. Ironically, when I spoke earlier about players having an influence, I think that was Roy’s downfall. Little incidents contributed to this, like the younger lads arriving late to training and the discipline side of things. I wasn’t playing much when Roy came in but I wouldn’t say our relationship wasn’t bad. He’s a nice fella but when you’re not playing regularly, you’re not going to be happy.
On the comparisons to Barnes
John was a totally different player to me. I think John is the best player I’ve ever played with and in our era. I didn’t compare myself to John at all. Unfortunately his England career didn’t go as he would have wanted. No doubt one of the best players of this generation. John is a generous man and did things a lot of people wouldn’t know about. He was a class player and a class man.
Lack of England caps
Me playing in Scotland didn’t help. Graham Taylor told me that. I was never going to move clubs to play for England though. I believe Club football is more important because if you’re not happy playing for your club, go elsewhere and it doesn’t work then you’ve only got yourself to blame. Playing for England wasn’t a focal point, plus I had John Barnes, Chris Waddle and Steve Hodge selected ahead of me. However, playing in a different league didn’t help. Moving to England helped a little but I’m a bit disappointed I didn’t play more games for the national team. I accepted it and moved on.
He is the type of player who was in the right place at the right time. I believe, with the right service, he’d have scored everywhere. It’s difficult to explain to people who aren’t from Glasgow what it means to play for one of the clubs there. McCoist could achieve everything he wanted at Rangers so I knew why he stayed there for the rest of his career. I can understand why people said he should have left, but I can understand why he stayed. He broke records as a player and even managed the team.
Wingin’ It: The Mark Walters Story
The book goes into many of my experiences. I was asked to write a book a few times in the past but I felt it’s the right time to do so. Ray Wilkins, Cyrille Regis and Neal Cooper – all good friends of mine – have all passed away in the last 6 months, so it’s the right time to write about my career. A few things have happened like the coach who sexually exploited a youth player had to be mentioned as this sort of thing is brought up so often these days.
The full interview can be heard here: